When you decide to become a writer, it’s imperative that you begin to see your life as part of an ongoing narrative with a happy ending in which you are the protagonist. If you judge your life using traditional methods, such as “assessing the quality of the present” or “checking your bank account balance,” you can get very depressed, very quickly.
I find “stories of what famous writers did before they were famous writers” to be a primary source of validation in this regard. I can see my present in their past, which means their future must also be my future. Right? Totally.
That’s why I love Days of Yore, a website which interviews different artists — writers, performance artists, comedians, etc — about what it was like when they were just starting out. And in between the stories of cramped apartments, rejection letters, Kraft Dinner and odd jobs; the interviewees have plenty of pearls of wisdom to share about their craft in general.
It currently features great interviews with many of my favorite writers, like Kathryn Harrison (The Kiss, Exposure), Mary Karr (The Liar’s Club, Cherry), Jennifer Egan (Look at Me), Sarah Ruhl (Euridyce), Julia Alvarez (How the García Girls Lost Their Accents) and Susan Orlean (The Orchid Thief). Here are just some of my favorite quotes — go read the whole website now and get smarter!
“When I was younger, I usually found that I wanted to cut out what I should have been writing, because it actually showed who I was more vividly, and it was embarrassing to me. I find this often with students. They have a self they want to be—we all have a sense of how we want to be perceived. And usually you defend that, unconsciously.”
“Perseverance is everything. People become experts of the obstacles in front of them. “I’m not tall enough to play football,” “I’m not smart enough to write a novel”…whatever it is. And school, school shows you exactly where the minefields are and is supposed to give you a map so you go around them. What about if stepping on a mine is part of it? You have to live the life you claim you want to have. No one will prevent you, if you only want to live your life. I think we dance around the issue of doing exactly what we want. One of the reasons we don’t talk about doing exactly what we want is to cushion the blow—“Oh I didn’t want it anyway, so it’s OK that I didn’t get it,” etc. No. Apply for the jobs that you really want, and if you don’t get them, it should hurt.”
“The paradox is that I am most myself and least burdened by self when I’m writing. Hours can vanish. Sometimes hours spent on one sentence, which is not so good, but I do love it. I didn’t begin by loving it. I began in the Flannery O’Connor camp of “I love to have written.” I never thought it was fun. I was always in a crisis of anxiety. There were a couple of people at Iowa who said they loved writing, and I thought, “Wow, really? That’s weird.” I’ve come to love it. But I’ve also become far more addicted to it. It really is this thing that I have to do.”
– Kathryn Harrison
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